By Sharon Muthu
The Sunshine Paradox
It was a beautiful, sunny, typical Southern California day. After a couple weeks of cold and rainy weather, it was a joy to see Los Angeles back to its usual balmy splendor: Flowers blooming, the sweet scent of summer in the air, and Californians overjoyed to be outside, wearing their light breezy attire, adorned in sunglasses, and sipping iced coffees.
Stand Proudly in the Sunshine
I had been craving the sunshine for many days now, and couldn’t wait to get outside. I hurried to throw on a loose-fitting t-shirt and workout pants, and practically ran to the front door, my little doggy trailing close behind me, his tail wagging uncontrollably. With child-like joy, the two of us headed outside. That first breath of summer-like air was heaven, perfumed with jasmine and fresh-cut grass. The glorious California sun hit my face for the first time in days; warm, bright, soul-soothing. I smiled, breathing deeply, and shut my eyes to soak it all in.
Suddenly I heard a nagging voice echo from somewhere deep inside me, full of fear as it abruptly eclipsed my happiness: I better put a hat on & stay in the shade, or my skin might get too dark.
Using Positive Self Talk
“Whoa! What was that?!,” I thought, alarmed as my eyes sprung open. Immediately, a stronger inner-voice overtook the nagging one: “STOP! Sharon Muthu, you get that negative, old, toxic, incorrect thought out of your mind now. You know that it has no validity. You are smarter than that. You are braver than that.”
Whew. I stood for a moment truly shocked, because thoughts like that are very rare for me these days. I’ve come to embrace and love my dark skin over the years. Yet there it was; The horrible result of old-world conditioning that was somehow still lingering in the back of my mind, sneaking up on me like a knee-jerk reaction at the very mention of the word “sunshine.”
I was grateful for the voice of truth had come to my rescue. I had to tell myself, “These negative thoughts are toxic and false. I will not perpetuate such nonsense for myself or anyone else. I am smarter than that. I am braver than that. I will enjoy this long-awaited sunshine because it is natural and beautiful. And, whether or not my skin turns darker remains irrelevant, for I will still be beautiful, regardless.”
And once more, grounded in this absolute truth, my little dog and I set off for a long morning walk, happily drenched in the Southern California sunlight.
Colourism Buried Deep Inside Me
As I walked on, I reflected on the momentary inner-conflict that had just occurred. What was that voice of doubt and shame? When did it begin? Why does it sometimes rear its ugly head even when I’m feeling so happy and confident about myself? Why do I continue to face the demons and battle the ghosts of my childhood?
I am still my six-year-old self hearing my South Asian community elders telling me to, “Always keep out of the sun if you don’t want to be dark.” I am still the twelve-year-old adolescent girl being bombarded by ads for creams and scrubs, promising beauty (and ultimately, validation) by virtue of lighter skin. I am still the twenty-year-old young woman who hears others saying condescendingly, “Sharon, you’re very dark, but still pretty enough.” And, today, I am a grown woman who is deeply affected by the constant battles of racism & skin-colour bias that plague every culture, at every level of society.
A Little Sunshine On Your Face
My friends, change begins with us: It begins within our own families, within our communities, with how we teach our children. But, most importantly, it begins within our individual minds.
I can tell you from experience, it does get easier. The more I reaffirm these truths for myself each day, the more it becomes effortless to do so. The more I help to spread awareness, the more awareness I receive in my own journey. The more I see beauty in others, no matter our similarities or differences, the more beautiful I feel within myself. And, suddenly, those negative thoughts fade from my mind more quickly than ever before.
So, raise your voices loudly and proudly: We are ALL beautiful, just the way we are. And, I promise you – A little sunshine on your face won’t ever change that.
About the Author:
Sharon Muthu is an actress, voiceover artist, and singer, based out of Los Angeles, CA. She serves as the “Ambassador to Hollywood” for the international awareness campaign, Dark is Beautiful. She strongly supports and encourages the rise of ethnic diversity in Hollywood, and she hopes to be a prominent part of the next chapter of South Asian talents being featured in mainstream American entertainment.
The ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign’s focus last year was to start city chapters in India. So far, we have been able to successfully initiate conversations with some of our ardent supporters in Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. We have even managed to do awareness events and workshops in these cities.
At this point, the most active and happening city chapter is our Mumbai Chapter. We have always felt welcomed in the city and have built great friendships and partnerships in the last year alone. From the lecture at St. Xavier’s College, to the presentation at the Kahani Karnival, the city is all set to tune in to the ‘Dark is Beautiful’ mission of celebrating ‘beauty beyond colour’.
Today, I want to introduce to you one of our Mumbai Chapter Coordinators. We met Hazel Correa for the first time in Mumbai during our petition delivery trip in September 2013. Though I couldn’t spend much time with her then, I got to know her during my subsequent visits to Mumbai. Last year, when I approached her about being a part of the Mumbai Chapter, she willingly and promptly said ‘yes’! Since then, the WOW team has enjoyed working with Hazel.
– Kavitha Emmanuel | Founder and Director, WOW
Love The Skin You’re In
I was probably around six years old when I distinctly realized there was a difference between my siblings’ skin tones and mine.
I’ve tried hard to recall if I came to that understanding myself, or if it was because of what I had heard people say. My guess is that it was the latter. I was very young when I started getting picked on about my skin colour. Sometimes it was name-calling, sometimes I was excluded from games, and sometimes I just stayed away to avoid being hurt. I didn’t like my skin and I wondered why I was darker than my siblings. I wasn’t happy with the way I looked.
If it weren’t for my older sister constantly telling me that she loved my skin, and saying she wished she had my skin colour, I would probably be a very different person today. There were days when I’d come home crying. I would be upset about something some of the other kids had said to me; but my sister was always my safe haven. She would explain to me that it didn’t matter what the others thought. It was important for me to know that I was special, unique and perfect in my own way. Her unwavering support and reassurance is why, in time, I learned to not only accept the way I looked, but to love it!
As a child, things started to change when I was about twelve. I began to play sports competitively. The better I got at sports, the more popular I became. My parents encouraged me to participate in more activities. I competed in elocution and singing contests. Competing, and winning went a long way in building my self-esteem.
Going to college broadened my horizons. I met people from different parts of the country, and eventually different parts of the world. Exposure to different people, and different ways of thinking helped me evolve into the person I am today. Diversity is an amazing thing.
Today, I am happy, healthy and grateful for the life I have. My self-worth isn’t based on how I look. I don’t buy into anyone else’s perception of beauty. My wish is for each of you to be comfortable in your own skin. When you feel secure and positive about yourself, you’re bound to be naturally radiant.
When I learned about the ‘Dark Is Beautiful’ campaign, I knew immediately that I wanted to get involved. I wanted to be a part of a network of like-minded individuals who spread the message that ‘beauty is beyond colour’.
Beauty is natural. Beauty is grace, confidence and radiance. Beauty is what YOU want it to be.
About the author:
Hazel works in Governance and Internal Communications for Alcatel-Lucent. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Loyola Institute of Business Administration, Chennai and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. A native of the city, she is a ‘Dark Is Beautiful’ Mumbai Campaign Coordinator.
By Natasha Sharma | Model & Social Activist
Colour complex affects people worldwide.
For a long time, I was under the impression that a “fair and lovely” complexion was only desired by South Asians. My research and life experiences have opened my eyes to the fact that many communities around the world are impacted by this issue.
The belief that light skin is superior and will bring a person happiness, love, and success is deeply rooted in Eurocentricism. Societies which were colonized by Europeans for centuries began to associate “whiteness” with power. In the present, we see countless manifestations of this mindset, at both micro and macro levels.
My first brushes with “dark skin vs light skin” were at a young age. As a first generation Indian-American, I am very proud of my culture and heritage, however, the colour complex is one aspect that has always disturbed me. Many Indians are so quick to accuse “foreigners” of racism while there is so much racism within the Indian culture itself.
Like many other dark-skinned Indian girls, I received slights and jabs from other Indians. Comments like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so dark!” (with a tone of disgust) , “you would be prettier if you were lighter,” and “guys like girls that are light-skinned,” were extremely hurtful to hear. It didn’t help to constantly see ads for “Fair and Lovely” on the Indian channels, see only light-skinned heroines in Bollywood films, and to see the dark-skinned actresses cast as dowdy, unattractive sisters.
Fortunately for me, I grew up in a household where my parents emphasized that people who are dark-skinned are equally deserving of success, happiness, love and acceptance. Their positive attitudes helped offset some of the negativity.
Around the age of 18, friends, acquaintances, and strangers encouraged me to take up modeling. I began to realize that my dark-skin is striking and attractive. As a university senior studying International Relations and Social Work, I decided to combine my passion for social justice with modeling.
I’ve also had to take a stand against promoting dark-skin as something exotic. I have come across people that want to only work with me for the “exotic” factor. I have come across photographers that are interested in shooting with me because I have a “rare” skin tone and could supposedly pass as a person from a mixed race background. I have made it a point to stay away from photographers and designers who play into the “dark skin fetish” as well. I want to show the world that dark-skinned people can be beautiful without being exoticized.
I want to use my personal experiences to uplift and relate to other people of colour. Over the course of the past two years, I have modeled for local fashion designers, photographers, salons, and even a few online magazines. On my modeling page, I frequently write posts, provide commentary, and share articles about the devastating impact of colour discrimination. I hope to achieve a global presence and reach many people with the message of accepting and celebrating all skin colours.
I encourage everyone to speak out against colour complex when the opportunity presents itself. Whether it’s at the dinner table, in a classroom, or at a rally, remember that your voice counts. Knowledge is power–the more we inform others about the deep roots and lingering impact of colourism, the closer we come to creating a world that celebrates beauty in all forms.
This is the very reason I was so thrilled when I came across the Dark is Beautiful Facebook page last year. It is extremely refreshing to see a campaign which celebrates the beauty of all skin tones.
No one deserves to have their self-esteem corroded by skin colour bias. By promoting skin colour diversity in the media I am taking on Mahatma Gandhi’s challenge to me: Be the change I wish to see in the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Natasha Sharma is an International Relations and Social Work graduate from The University of Texas at Austin. She is very passionate about addressing social inequities. She has worked extensively with youth, immigrants, refugees, and survivors of domestic violence. She has also helped facilitate sustainable projects benefiting communities in India and Ghana. She ultimately hopes to pursue a career in the field of international human rights. Additionally, she does some free-lance modeling on the side. For the past two years, she has participated in local fashion shows, hair shows, photoshoots, and showcases. She hopes to increase the presence of women of colour in the media and to use her modeling career to combat skin colour bias.
By Kavita Emmanuel | Founder and Director of WOW
Lately there has been a lot of talk and speculation on the guidelines for advertising fairness products that was introduced by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). So let’s take some time to break it down and see what this means for us.
We grow up with this learned behaviour that clean and bright means white. Or that beauty and success require light skin. We are constantly being bombarded by these messages from the media. This is why the guidelines introduced by ASCI were a breath of fresh air. But regulations are just the beginning to the change we want to see.
Let’s face it! Even if all print and TV advertisements followed the ASCI guidelines we may still see skin colour discrimination endorsed simply because any product recommending ‘fairness’ as an option is in a way continuing to tell us that ‘the fair’ way is the wanted way! That is the reason our advocacy efforts include seeing more diversity on the silver screen.
We have had conversations with fashion photographers: some want to work with the traditional idea of beauty while others have seen the beauty in all skin colours and would recommend a model based on talent. But often photographers and advertising agencies are caught between what they would like to do and what the client (the brand) wants to see.
When we sit down to chat with owners and directors of brands, they too believe talented models come in many colours but their clientele (we the customers) are more comfortable with the traditional sense of beauty where a model’s skin as white as milk. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps us stagnating in our patriarchal ideologies and perceptions of beauty, success, and self worth. This is where we would like to inspire advertising agencies and brands to take a stand towards ‘responsible advertising’ and not just do what sells.
When we think of change, we want to see the BIG picture and a future where media does not sell discrimination to our children. Do we not want our children outgrowing the iron-maiden-beauty-traps that we have come to believe as something true and real? Do we not want our children to accept themselves for who they are and respect others for being themselves? And do we not want our children to witness a true celebration of all skin colours in the media? We, at Dark is Beautiful, do not just want to see discriminatory advertisements disappear but we want to see people of all skin colours being included and their skin tones celebrated.
This is why we welcomed the story of model Natasha Sharma. Here is a young Indian-American talking about changing the landscape of visual media by combating skin colour bias in the media. Stay tuned for her story that will be coming out this week. Meanwhile, if you see an ad on television that is discriminatory and derogatory, do your part and report it to ASCI at www.ascionline.org.
By Kavita Emmanuel | Founder and Director of WOW
India still stands out at as the world’s largest democracy. But what makes us unique is also the largeness of our diversity. Diversity of cultures, ethnic groups, religions, languages and SKIN COLOUR together make India truly special. As we celebrate our 68th Independence Day, let us be proud of our nation and all 1.2 Billion shades of skin colour it displays.
I noticed that since we began the Dark is Beautiful campaign in 2009 people have become more vocal about sharing their experiences with skin colour discrimination. The stories have begun to get deeper and brutally honest. The most painful are those where skin colour bias has driven people to suicide, ended marriages, increased dowry demands or crippled a child of his/her potential while at school.
Adoption agencies continue to struggle finding homes for dark-skinned children. I know of a family that has adopted a beautiful dark skinned girl whose siblings in the adopted family happen to be light skinned. The mother struggles to hush the comments from neighbours, friends and relatives who are ever so generous to hurl hurtful and wounding remarks at the child.
Battling mind-sets and addressing attitude change is no easy task. What may be disappointing to some of us is that in spite of the fact that campaigns such as ours have taken steps towards getting this toxic belief out of our society, we continue to battle every day struggles with skin colour bias. You may continue to face disappointment every time an advertisement praises ‘fair skin’ over dark skin. Maybe the name-calling and derogatory comments about your skin colour haven’t altogether disappeared. True! We need to learn to live with confidence in the midst of the painful reality that’s surrounds us. Don’t lose heart! Hold on to all that makes you who you are!!
I have said this before and I will continue to say this: Change begins at home, in our neighbourhoods and schools. Let’s stop pretending that all is well in our contexts. Please do not shy away from talking to your children about the existence of the bias. They would rather hear it from you than face it in the crude form of comments from people or on television screens. Tell every child that they are valuable just as they are, in their own skin!
Join us as we celebrate diversity. Download and use this free Facebook cover for the rest of the week. Give us a shout out by including #dare2bcolourblind in the Add Description box.
Free DisB Facebook Cover. To download, right click and select the Save File As option
By Kavitha Emmanuel | Founder & Director, WOW
A resounding ‘Thank You’ to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) for introducing new guidelines for fairness products advertisements. While we eagerly await the formalization of these guidelines let’s face the fact that these guidelines will not end skin colour bias from among us.
Firstly, I wonder how many ad agencies welcome this change. It further raises the question as to what loopholes agencies will use to justify “UNFAIR advertising”.
Secondly, people argue and debate about how changing or stopping advertisements that are discriminatory might not necessarily change skin colour perception in the country. When we underestimate the effectiveness of the ASCI guidelines we are denying the obvious powerful influence of the media on young minds in both literate and illiterate contexts. While we know that skin colour bias was not initiated by the media we are firm in our focus to see change in the way colour prejudice is portrayed and reinforced by the media.
Also, the Dark is Beautiful campaign’s mission isn’t finished with seeing discriminatory advertisements withheld. We are on a quest to see positive messages on celebrating all skin colours penetrating the media.
I am dreaming of the day when brands would introduce ads that celebrate ‘beauty beyond colour’ and visibly give value and respect to all skin tones. I hope to see people of all skin tones being celebrated and cherished on our movie screens. The campaign beats with a deeper desire to see women not being valued merely for their outward appearance but for who they are and what they stand for.
Media is a powerful tool and has the potential to help a society recover from its negative practices and harsh prejudices.
Changing how media influences the nation’s psyche of beauty based on skin colour is part of the Dark is Beautiful campaign’s focus. However, we are always conscious of the need to change mind sets and societal attitudes towards skin colour.If you believe in our mission then be our ambassador by empowering those around you.
Do your bit by putting back value in people who have faced discrimination.When you find an advertisement that’s repulsive, don’t hesitate to register a complaint with the ASCI. On the same note, lets be on the look-out for brands that are celebrating beauty in all skin tones.
Engage with your community by organizing a DARK IS BEAUTIFUL doodle event, photo booth, or just a simple discussion around the dinner table.
We all need to be in this together to see visible change. I urge you to welcome and support ASCI’s first step in introducing the guidelines to check discriminatory advertisements.